January 23rd, 2013 by Anthony Bosman

Take a piece of paper. It’s about 0.1 millimeters (a thousandth of a meter) thick. Fold it in half. It’s now 0.2 mm thick. Still not very impressive.

But keep folding and you’ll notice it starts getting thick pretty fast. Suppose you could keep folding without limit (in reality it’s tough to fold a paper in half more than a handful of times).

How tall do you suspect your folded paper would be after 50 folds?

What do you think? Thick as a book? A stack of books? The height of a bookshelf? As tall as a two-story library?

Not even close. It’d be as thick as the distance from the earth to the sun.

Really? Yeah. It’s the law of exponential growth–the power of doubling. Notice how quickly a number doubles:

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768, 65536, 131072, 262144, 524288, 1048576, …

That’s a lot of numbers, but the point is that in just 20 steps we moved from one to over a million. Just 10 more moves pushes us past a billion. In the same way, each time you fold a paper in half, it doubles in thickness. Thus it doesn’t take long to get ridiculously thick.

This idea shows up all over the place. Yet, I was surprised to find it in John’s gospel.

Check it out for yourself, read John 1:35-46. It’s the story of Jesus’ first disciples.

It starts with Jesus and just one follower, John the baptist. But John sent two of his followers after Jesus. One of these, Andrew, then reaches out to his brother, Peter. Then Philip, the friend of Andrew and Peter, starts following. And of course Philip then goes and finds someone, Nathanael.

Notice each follower reaches out to only one (perhaps two) at a time. But before long, there’s a sizeable crew of disciples.

Imagine if this principle was consistently put into practice. If every year, every follower of Jesus would attract just one other person to Christ.

What would happen? Doubling. Crazy exponential growth.

Yet, re-read John 1:35-46 because there’s something we should note. There’s an essential way in which the paper-folding analogy breaks down.

Folding a piece of paper is all about doubling the paper onto itself. Unfortunately, we sometimes think Christian witnessing is the same–making doubles of ourselves, convincing others to adopt our actions and beliefs.

But that wasn’t the method of Jesus’ first disciples. They did not coerce others, try to manipulate them, or even argue with them about the validity of their beliefs. They simply extended the invitation, “Come and see” (John 1:39)

Rather than attempt to replicate ourselves, Christian witnessing is about pointing away from ourselves to Another. It is not outwitting or overwhelming, but extending a simple invitation, “Come and see.”

John most clearly exhibits this. He had attracted followers to himself, was ‘doubling’ in popularity, but pointed so clearly to Jesus–”Behold the Lamb of God!”–that the followers of John left him to become followers of Jesus (John 1:36-37).

May we do the same.

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